Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said HMS Sutherland, a Type 23 anti-submarine frigate, would sail through the South China Sea on its way home from Australia ‘to assert freedom of navigation rights’.
“She’ll be sailing through the South China Sea and making it clear our Navy has a right to do that,” he told The Australian newspaper after a two-day visit to Sydney and Canberra.
This comes not long after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Australian ministers that HMS Queen Elizabeth will conduct freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea region on her maiden deployment in 2021.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said:
“We spoke about the challenges including in the South China Sea and we had a long discussion about the Pacific and the opportunities for deeper British engagement in our part of the world.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in response to concerns raised regarding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea:
“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area, to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.”
Britain recently deployed a squadron of Typhoon aircraft to conduct exercises with South Korea and Japan amid heightened tension in the region. According to local media, the ministers agreed to identify opportunities to conduct joint activities when the two countries have ships or other assets in the area at the same time. We reported recently that it had emerged that the UK plans to sail HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific in 2021 amid concerns regarding freedom of navigation in the region.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail to the Pacific on her maiden deployment in 2020 according to an ambassador. Kim Darroch, Britain’s ambassador to the US said at a think-tank event in Washington:
“As we bring our two new aircraft carriers on-stream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific. And we absolutely share the objective of this US administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.”